by Eve Vawter
There's noting wrong with being referred to as "Ma'am" instead of "Miss" or "Mrs." or even "Hey, you." I have no issue with being called "Ma'am" and if you're a (cis) women of a certain age, you shouldn't either. So why do some many older women bristle at this form of respect?
You know what's offensive? If someone calls you Ma'am when they are fully aware that you have a professional title, as in "Doctor" or "Your Honor" or as in the case of Senator Barbara Boxer of California who was referred to as "Ma'am" while questioning Brigadier General Michael Walsh of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and he kept referring to her as Ma'am instead of Senator. That's offensive.
Offensive is calling someone "Sweetie" or "Honey" or "Baby" — especially if you aren't related to them or have a close relationship. But I can't get all heated when someone younger than me calls me Ma'am, because as far as me and my crow's-feet are concerned, I've earned it. Ma'ams are older and mature and have a certain dignity, and even if I'm just picking up a case of paper towels while wearing yoga pants, I appreciate anyone calling me this rather than something like "Hey, you."
To me, "ma'am" shows a certain level of respect and manners, and if it puts me in a league with women a lot older and wiser than I am then I feel it's pretty good company to keep. I was never the woman who felt this shattering sense of self when I was first called "Ma'am" instead of "Miss" — it just made me feel like the person who addressed me as such (and it was probably one of my teen son's friends) respected me enough to address me with something other than "Yo."
I'm a feminist (a hardcore, raging one) and I'm not offended by "Ma'am" or anything that goes along with it. "Can I carry this for you, Ma'am?" "Here, let me get this door for you, Ma'am." "Are you sure this is your correct age, Ma'am? You don't look a day over 30."
Yeah, I'll take Ma'am. Besides, it always accompanies this as the soundtrack in my mind: